Maryland plans to cut welfare grants by 30 percent next year, putting the money in a "special needs" fund for families who can demonstrate they need assistance with housing, medical care and education.
The proposal would create a two-tiered welfare system, in which families would receive a smaller, basic grant, then apply for more money by demonstrating they had all three of the so-called special needs.
"It's the right thing to do, regardless of what's going on financially in the state," Department of Human Resources Secretary Carolyn Colvin announced today. "We cannot continue paying at the front end and the back end."
Under the proposal, which needs federal approval, the average grant under Aid to Families with Dependent Children would be reduced from $369 -- the 1989 level -- to $264 for a family of three.
Families who meet special needs criteria could get most of the money back, but no more than they currently receive.
However, families who live in public housing -- including an estimated 9,000 households in Baltimore -- would not meet special needs criteria because their rent is already subsidized.
"We want to give the non-public housing recipients a fair advantage," Colvin said.
The change to AFDC was one of three major initiatives Colvin announced today at a news conference at DHR headquarters. The other changes, expected to be implemented in April 1992, include:
* Replacing the state-funded General Public Assistance program (GPA) with a new aid-to-adults package called the Disability Assistance and Loan Program.
Unlike GPA, which was almost eliminated during this fall's round of budget cuts, the new program would pay grants only to those who are disabled for at least 12 months. Those with disabilities of a shorter duration would receive loans -- but only if they had held jobs within the preceding three months.
Clients also would have to agree to pay the state back if they received workmen's compensation or liability awards later on.
The state estimates that this would save about $18.6 million next fiscal year.
* The state also plans to eliminate its emergency assistance program, which provides $250 grants, up to two a year, to families who are facing eviction or need help with burial costs.
According to DHR, this would result in an $800,000 saving for the current fiscal year and a $3.5 million saving in fiscal year 1993.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer,who attended the news conference, described the restructuring as a courageous plan on the part of Colvin, Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary Nelson Sabatini and State School Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.
"She's [Colvin] going to be tough and I'm going to be right with her," the governor said. "It will still be taking care of the elderly, taking care of the blind."
Welfare advocates who attended the announcement were less optimistic.
"I think there are a tremendous amount of ifs," said Lynda Meade, a lobbyist for Associated Catholic Charities. "The details are mind-boggling. The GPA rolls will definitely be cut."